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Obituary: Environmental pioneer always kept his theology firmly rooted in the soil

Dr Edward P. Echlin, died 23rd December 2019.

Renowed eco-theologian and organic gardener Dr Edward P. Echlin died on 23rd December, aged 89. He was a man proud to did his theological thinking with his hands firmly in the soil.

He was born on 15th January 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, USA and entered the Society of Jesus in 1948, remaining a Jesuit for 25 years. In the 1960s he taught theology at John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio where he developed a special interest in ecumenical relations, especially between Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

He wrote his first book, The Anglican Eucharist in Ecumenical Perspective, in 1968, in addition to penning many articles.

When the permanent diaconate was restored he chaired the US RC Bishops Committee on the theology of the diaconate and wrote his best selling book The Deacon and the Church, Past and Future (1971). In this book he saw preaching the Word as the prime function of the priest and wrote The Priest as Preacher (1973).

In 1972 he moved to the UK and lectured in ecclesiology at Ushaw College, Durham, and in 1974 spent one term as Catholic Lecturer at the Anglican theological college at Lincoln.

He was laicised in 1974 and married Barbara in December.

Always interested in the environment, from the 1980s onwards he focused all his efforts on relating Jesus Christ to the Earth. He saw reintegration with the Earth in a mutually supportive relationship of humans with the Earth community as the defining issue of the 21st century – putting him well ahead of what is a modern zeitgeist of concern for the environment.

He wrote three books: Earth Spirituality, Jesus at the Centre (1999/2002), The Cosmic Circle, Jesus and Ecology (2004), and Climate and Christ, A Prophetic Alternative (2010) plus numerous articles in both academic and popular journals and magazines.

In this area he became a prominent leader: he was Chair Emeritus of Catholic Concern for Animals, Honorary Research Fellow in Theology, University College of Trinity & All Saints, Leeds and Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, Salisbury. He was also a member of Green Christian, Garden Organic, Soil Association and other environmental NGOs.

He had a passion for fruit trees and in the past year inspired the planting of 24 apple and pear trees, in church grounds, schools and individual gardens.

He was a regular contributor to The Catholic Universe on environment issues and his thoughts on ecological topics were always prescient and well received. The team at The Catholic Universe would also like to offer its sincerest condolences to Barbara and all Dr Echlin’s family and friends.

His funeral will take place at his local church, St Martha’s RC Church, Cooden Sea Road, Bexhill TN39 4SL, at 12.30pm on Wednesday 15th January – which would have been his 90th birthday.

The service will be led by Fr Rags Hay-Will, parish priest at Eastbourne and a fellow Green Christian member as well as a long-time friend of the Echlins.

Picture: Dr Edward P. Echlin.